Skinamarink, The Uncanny, and Slow Cinema

It’s been some time, maybe since The Blair Witch Project, that a horror movie has been debated as much as the indie feature Skinamarink, directed by Kyle Edward Ball. After leaking at Fantasia Festival last year, the movie became a viral sensation. Tik Tok users especially took to the platform to talk about how much the $19,000 debut freaked them out. Since its release in theaters recently, it’s also drawn pushback. Just read the user comments on IMDB or Twitter. Go on YouTube and type in the film. You’ll see plenty of videos by social media gurus claiming they either love or hate the film and all of their reasons why.

Like Blair Witch, Skinamarink became a sensation largely through word of mouth and the internet. No, there isn’t a website for the film with missing person posters, but it’s generated the same sort of buzz and harnessed the power of the web much in the same way as the influential 1999 found footage feature, which was also shot for little to no money.

I saw Skinamarink during its initial theatrical release a few weeks ago, before it expanded to more theaters, and I do believe this movie should be watched at home, either on a laptop or flatscreen, just before bed. While I’m an advocate for movie theaters, I don’t think this movie is best seen that way. What it does well is play up childhood nightmares and anxieties, namely the fear of losing one’s parents. There are familiar images here, including scattered Legos, a fuzzy TV, and a plastic telephone. Yet, it’s how Ball uses these images that make the film effective, at least for me and some other viewers. It all goes back to Freud’s theory of The Uncanny and making the familiar suddenly haunting. Heck, even a plastic telephone becomes downright terrifying here.

I have many more thoughts on this film, including the way it puts you in a child’s perspective. To read more of my take on this film, click here to access my piece on it for Signal Horizon. In the meantime, Skinamarink is still paying in some theaters, and it’s now streaming on Shudder. I advise simply surrendering to the experience that is this film without expecting any clear narrative.

Lucky McKee’s May, Mumblecore, and the Retelling of Frankenstein

A few years ago, I presented a paper on the film May (2002) at the NeMLA Conference, specifically how it’s a reaction to Mumblecore and also a retelling of Frankenstein with quite the twist. Since then, the article has undergone a lot of revisions. It’s finally found a home at Bright Lights Film Journal!

I’m happy to announce that you can now read the article by clicking here, and if you haven’t watched May yet, it’s still streaming for free on Tubi.

Plenty of Horror in 2023

2022 was quite the year for horror. Films like Smile and Barbarian seemingly came out of nowhere and made big bucks at the box office. Other films like Speak No Evil and X disturbed audiences, while Michael Myers and Ghostface returned to the big screen. Simply put, last year was one of the best for the genre in some time. 2023 also looks promising. Here’s a few movies I’m excited about as we start a new year.

M3GAN (January 6)

I admit I was skeptical the first time I saw the trailer for this one, but upon further consideration, I admit this latest by Blumhouse looks like a campy good time. Will it break new ground? Unlikely, but it simply looks FUN. Directed by Gerald Johnstone, this feature follows a doll that begins to take on a life of its own as it absorbs more and more information. Chucky, eat your heart out. Make way for M3GAN!

Watch the trailer here.

Skinamarink (January 13)

I know little to nothing about this movie, and the trailer gives away very little. I do know it generated buzz at Fantastic Fest last year and that it was shot on a minuscule budget. The film will be released by IFC Midnight, so if slow-burn horror is your thing, this one may be for you. It’ll also release on Shudder later in the year. I will say that the trailer gives me the creeps!

Watch the trailer here.

Infinity Pool (January 27)

Brandon Cronenberg’s last film, Possessor, made several year-end lists in 2020. He returns with his third feature, Infinity Pool, starring Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard. Goth especially had quite the year last year, after starring in X and Pearl, essentially becoming 2022’s scream queen, along with Jenna Ortega. Infinity Pool focuses on an all-inclusive beach spot in the fictional island of La Tolqa, where a fatal accident exposes the island’s hedonistic subculture, violence, and horrors, oh my! The trailer looks absolutely bonkers in all the best ways. Infinity Pool will premiere at Sundance, before releasing in theaters that same week.

Watch the trailer here.

Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey (February 15)

Who knew we needed a Winnie the Pooh slasher film?! This looks as campy as MEGAN, and I’m here for it. Now that Winnie the Pooh is in public domain, a film like this could exist. Get ready for your beloved childhood characters to go on a bloody rampage.

Watch the trailer here.

Scream 6 (March 10)

After surviving the last movie, Jenna Ortega returns as Tara in the latest installment of the Scream franchise, and she’s joined by fellow survivor Sam (Melissa Barrera), her sister. The only one set to return from the OG cast is Courtney Cox, reprising her iconic role as Gale Weathers. Unfortunately, Neve Campbell announced she wouldn’t be reprising her final girl role. This time, Tara and Sam decide to leave Woodsboro behind and move to NYC. Of course, they’re stalked by Ghostface(s). Setting this latest Scream in NY has me intrigued, even if they filmed it in Montreal. New York. New Rules, as the tagline says.

Watch the teaser trailer here.

Renfield (April 14)

Universal’s done a mixed job rebooting their classic monsters. The Invisible Man (2020) was stellar, but the reboot of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise was hogwash. Renfield looks promising, especially for the simple fact that Nicolas Cage stars as Dracula! Oh, and its initial story was pitched by Robert Kirkman, you know, the guy who wrote “The Walking Dead” comics. Nicholas Hoult meanwhile, plays Renfield, loyal servant to the Count. Not too shabby.

No trailer yet.

Evil Dead Rise (April 21)

No, Bruce Campbell is not returning as Ash, and no, Sam Raimi didn’t direct the latest Evil Dead. Instead, this particular sequel, directed by Lee Cronin, takes place in LA, specifically in an apartment building, where the reunion of two estranged sisters is cut short by deadites. I’m interested that they decided to pull this franchise out of the woods and set it somewhere new, much like Scream. The trailer still has a few ED hallmarks, though, including sharp-tongued demons, the book of the dead, and of course, plenty of gore. Groovy!

Watch the trailer here.

Beau Is Afraid (Sometime this year)

Ari Aster’s third feature, starring Joaquin Phoenix, will drop later this year. There’s not much info available yet, only the teaser poster. Will it live up to Hereditary and Midsommer? We’ll see, but I’m stoked to see Aster’s latest.

MaXXXine (Maybe 2023?)

It’s unclear if the last film in Ti West’s trilogy will release this year, but a teaser was released at the end of Pearl. The third film, set in the 80s, will follow Maxine (Mia Goth) after the events of X and once she forges her acting career in LA.

So far, it looks like 2023 will be another strong year for genre films. I’m especially excited to see what may wind up being this year’s Pearl or Barbarian. It’s unlikely we’ll know until such a film drops and the buzz begins.

Top Horror Movies of 2022

Genre films had a heck of a year the box office, and in fact, may have very well saved the box office post-COVID. While franchise staples like Scream and Halloween Ends made a pretty buck, it was the breakout films and movies unattached to franchises that really deserve accolades this year, films like Barbarian, The Black Phone, Smile, and Pearl (Mia Goth for an Oscar nomination, anyone?). I have no doubt these films will be re-watched in the years to come, and because this was such a strong year for horror, I sometimes wonder if people will look back on 2022 the way that they look back on 1984, 1978, and other benchmark years for the genre, wishing they could have seen some of these films in the theater for the first time.

Without further ado, here are my top horror films of 2022.

Speak No Evil

This film premiered at Sundance 2022’s Midnight section, and for me, it was the breakout. Director Christian Tafdrup’s feature has a nasty and bleak ending, one that haunts you long after the credits roll. The story follows a Danish family that visits a Dutch family they met on holiday. It should be an idyllic weekend, but something seems off. To say much more would spoil this one, especially its shocking ending. Sometimes, the world is simply evil without much of a reason for it. For many, I suspect this film will be a one-time viewing, and that’s just fine. I almost feel bad for recommending it…almost.

Read my initial review from Sundance here.

Click here for the trailer.

Fresh

Here’s another that debuted at Sundance 2022, and it’s a good chaser for Speak No Evil. Director Mimi Cave’s horror-comedy is a warning to women: be careful about the men you meet. Fresh follows Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who meets handsome and charming Steve (Sebastian Stan) at a grocery store. Frustrated with dating apps, she gives him her digits. Immediately, Noa is smitten and accepts Steve’s offer for a romantic weekend getaway. Bad idea! Let’s just say that Steve has some very, VERY peculiar appetites.

Click here for the trailer.

Nope

Jordan Peele returned this year with his third feature, the sci-fi/horror spectacle Nope. This may be Peele’s most polarizing film to date, but it’s also his most direct film about Hollywood, specifically the way it uses people, swallows them, and spits them out. There are SO many scenes to talk about in this film, especially those sequences with Gordy. Likewise, there are so many praise-worthy performances here, especially Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood, Steven Yeun as Ricky Park, and Daniel Kaluuya as OJ Haywood. This contains so much Spielberg influence that it really should be seen on the big screen. I have no doubt academics will be writing about this film for years to come. I highly suggest reading Richard Newby’s take.

Click here for the trailer.

X

Prior to this year, it’s been a hot minute since Ti West directed a horror film. Well, he returned and gifted us with not one, but TWO genre films this year, all part of a brand-new trilogy. X has serious Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibes, meaning it feels gritty, grainy, and even a little bit dangerous. Set in the 1970s, X follows a film crew shooting a porno. Suddenly, they’re terrorized by an elderly couple, including Pearl (Mia Goth), who once wanted to be a Hollywood starlet. We’ll get to her more in a minute. Goth also stars as Maxine, who just may have the X factor to make it in Hollywood. Yes, she pulls double duty here as both Pearl, under a lot of make-up, and Maxine, and she excels. She’s the new scream queen in my book, along with her X co-star, Jenna Ortega. I can’t wait to see what these women do next.

Read my SXSW review of X here.

Click here for the trailer.

Pearl

Just months after releasing X, Ti West dropped his second film in the trilogy, Pearl, a technicolor throwback and prequel. Set during the Great Depression, this time we learn Pearl’s story, and boy, does Mia Goth give it her all. There’s one specific monologue in the last act that clocks in at nearly eight minutes long. Somehow, it’s spellbinding. How many other films of late can pull that off? There are also some nasty kills here, and a maniacal, yet pained grin that Goth sports during the end credits that you just won’t forget. This is my favorite Ti West film to date, a story about stardom and what happens when dreams don’t materialize. Oh, and after seeing this, you’ll never look at the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz quite the same away again.

Click here for the trailer.

A Wounded Fawn

After seeing Jakob’s Wife a few years ago, I was convinced that Travis Stevens is an indie horror director to watch. His third feature, A Wounded Fawn, only confirmed that feeling for me. Like Fresh, this is another feature about a bad, bad dude, Bruce (Josh Ruben), who charms an art lover, Meredith (Sarah Lind), to go away with him for a weekend. Once again, bad idea! Bruce is a psycho who murders women and makes them into his personal trophies/art. However, this time, he gets more than he bargained for when past victims return as the Furies. Yes, the second half of this movie feels like a Greek tragedy/drama, complete with the masks, togas, and all. This is surreal arthouse horror and my favorite feature by Stevens to date.

Click here for the trailer.

Watcher

Director Chloe Okuno’s film has crazy Hitchcock vibes, especially Rear Window. However, this time we feel the effects of such grotesque voyeurism and stay in the female’s perspective, specifically Julia’s (Maika Monroe). Julia just moved to Bucharest with her husband and suspects that a stranger who watches her from the apartment building across the street just may be a serial killer who decapitates women. Watcher moves at the perfect pace and builds to an ending that you won’t soon forget.

Click here for the trailer.

Barbarian

Barbarian is another film that borrows a heck of a lot from Hitchcock, specifically Psycho and the way the narrative and POV shift about halfway from Marion Crane to Norman Bates. Initially, director Zach Cregger’s film follows Tess (Georginia Campbell), who stays at a super sketchy Airbnb in a less than savory Detroit neighborhood. She soon finds out that someone else is staying there, Keith, played by Bill Skarsgard. Can Tess trust him? Before all of these questions are answered, the narrative suddenly shifts to AJ’s (Justin Long) story. He’s an LA actor facing a #MeToo-type scandal about to bring down his career. He also owns the house in Detroit, and in time, all of the characters find out that the house hides a hell of a lot of secrets. For me, Barbarian was the surprise horror movie of 2022, the one that really came out of nowhere and stunned at the box office.

Click here for the trailer.

Hatching

Hatching is one of the best creature features that I’ve seen in years. It’s far more than that, though. Director Hanna Bergholm’s film follows a young gymnast, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), who tries desperately to please her demanding mother. Tinja then discovers a strange egg, hides it, and keeps it warm until it well, hatches. This Finnish film has a lot of layers to unpack. It’s a psychological creature feature/body horror ride that contains a metaphorical gut punch and stellar set designs.

Read my initial review of Hatching here.

Click here for the trailer.

Mad God

In short, Mad God is a stop-motion animation masterpiece that was about 30 years in the making, created over time by SFX guru Phil Tippett, who has worked on everything from Jurassic Park to Return of the Jedi. There’s no real plot here, so just sit back and enjoy the visuals, as Steampunk-looking miners descend the layers of hell and encounter all types of gnarly monsters. Enough said. Just go watch this on Shudder right now.

Click here for the trailer.

Runner-ups and Honorable Mentions

A few that came close, but ultimately, didn’t make the list: The Sadness, Prey, The Black Phone, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Crimes of the Future, and Master.

Here’s to 2022, quite a year for horror. We’ll see what 2023 brings. Just months into the new year, we’ll be treated to Brandon Cronenberg’s third feature, Infinity Pool, starring Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard, and the sixth, yes sixth film in the Scream franchise. This time, Ghostface is taking over NYC. Let’s hope he’s actually there longer than Jason in Jason Takes Manhattan. Whatever 2023 brings, I’m here for it!

A Few Thoughts on Pearl

What a year it’s been for horror. When someone tells you there are not original horror movies, please just mention X, Barbarian, and Pearl, among others. I’m still utterly gob smacked by Mia Goth’s performance in Pearl. It’s Oscar worthy, even for the six-minute monologue alone she gives near the end of the m

I’m happy to share my thoughts on Ti West’s Pearl for Signal Horizon and the way that it subverts the American Dream and also nods to The Wizard of Oz, among other periods of American film. You can read the piece here. If you’ve seen the film, please feel free to share your thoughts!

Cronenberg’s Return to Body Horror

It’s been eight long years since David Cronenberg’s last feature, Maps of the Stars. It’s been even longer since he created a body horror feature that he became known for in the 1970s, with films like Shivers and The Brood. In the meantime, Cronenberg has been busy acting on series like “Slasher” and “Star Trek,” but his return to the subgenre he pioneered decades ago was highly anticipated.

Crimes of the Future doesn’t shock as much as his early work. Instead, his latest offering is a thought-provoking take on humanity’s evolution, technology, Transhumanism, and sex. Yes, Cronenberg has addressed some of these themes prior, even in his most well-known work, like The Fly, but in the age of social media and disconnect, Cronenberg’s latest is not only visually striking, but rich with ideas.

I did my best to unpack the director’s latest for Signal Horizon. You can read the article here. Is Cronenberg’s latest perfect? No, it’s not. There are one too many side plots and one specific storyline involving assassins that’s too muddled. That said, his latest has me still thinking about it, days after I saw it. Cronenberg already has another movie in the works, so it’s unlikely we’ll have to wait another eight years for a feature.

Best Horror Films of 2021

Was 2021 better than 2020? Well, at the end of this year, we have vaccines and booster shots. We know the best defense against the virus, and yet, the year was bookended by an insurrection in Washington, DC and a resurgent pandemic with a new variant more contagious than even the Delta. We have a new administration in Washington, and still, the sense that democracy is in crisis mode hasn’t really abated. In fact, the U.S. has been downgraded as a “backsliding democracy.” The tumult that was 2020 bled into 2021.

All of this anxiety should breed solid horror for years to come. Yet, as I went through all the films I reviewed in 2021 (more than 70 when I count the festivals I covered), this wasn’t a standout year compared to the last few. Part of this is due to the fact movies continue to face delays thanks to COVID. Still, this year featured some gems, and those are worth celebrating. So, with that, I bring you my best-of horror film list for 2021. (For my Best-of Shudder 2021 list click here).

Malignant/Directed by James Wan

This is James Wan’s love letter to giallo and 90s horror. This movie would have fit right at home with Dark Castle or Full Moon’s rooster during their heydays. Malignant delivered one of the best monsters of the year in Gabriel, a parasitic twin who could control electricity and broadcast his thoughts through speakers. His grudges and temper sent him on a course of murderous revenge. This movie is so silly and so much fun. It was the type of entertainment that we needed this year.

PG: Psycho Goreman/Directed by Steven Kostanski

Here’s another stellar creature feature. Matthew Ninaber gives a knockout performance as a malevolent space lord…who ends up with the name Psycho Goreman, or PG for short. After he lands on Earth, a group of kids finds a magical stone, and with it, they can command the space monster to do whatever they want. Along the way, he learns about human emotions, including love. Like Malignant, this is horror escapism at its best. This movie is funny, endearing, and wildly entertaining.

Lucky/Directed by Natasha Kermani

When you think the slasher has exhausted itself post-Scream, then along comes a movie like Lucky to put a feminist bite on everything. The killer in this, who wears all black and a non-discreet mask, is a stand-in for daily misogyny that women face. He’s that creep who lurks in the parking lot or the boss who says a woman’s work is never good enough. Starring Brea Grant, who also penned the script, Lucky is a smart take on a familiar subgenre. Grant just may be a new horror queen.

Candyman/Directed by Nia DaCosta

Other than the stinker Halloween Kills, Candyman was undoubtedly the most hyped horror movie of 2021. Did it live up to that? Yes and no. It has an ending that feels totally rushed, but the film is utterly stunning and visually arresting. DaCosta took the familiar story of Candyman and expanded it to reflect the Black community’s pain in the age of BLM. Yet, she did so without ever coming across as heavy-handed. This is a movie that draws on both Black history and the history of a franchise. Oh, and the brief cameo by Tony Todd is totally worth the wait. What’s especially impressive about this movie is the way it combines a typical slasher with some stellar body horror and even possession, especially once Candyman starts to take over the body of artist/lead Anthony McKoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Let’s hope this isn’t DaCosta’s last entry in the horror genre, now that she’s been tapped by Marvel to direct a sequel to Captain Marvel.

Titane/Directed by Julia Ducournau

This, for me, is the best horror movie of the year, hands down. After Ducornau’s steller 2016 debut feature Raw (one of the best horror films of the last decade, if you ask me), everyone waited for her follow-up. She did not disappoint. The film follows the story of Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), who has a weird fetish for cars and eventually has sex with one. Yes, it’s an extremely bizarre storyline with heavy body horror. But the film has layers of human emotion, several narrative turns, gender-bending and the most dazzling visuals out of anything I’ve seen this year. Titane makes it clear that Ducornau is one of the most important directors working in horror right now and one of the most interesting young directors period. Oh, and Ducournau became the first woman in history to win the top Cannes prize, the Palme d’Or, solo.

Runner-ups:

The Vigil/Directed by Keith Thomas

Jakob’s Wife/Directed by Travis Stevens

The Beta Test/Directed by Jim Cummings

Most Looking Forward to in 2022:

Scream, Baby, Scream!

The three survivors are back! Let’s hope this rebooted slasher has more to offer than Halloween Kills did. All trailers look promising, and with how much technology and horror have changed and evolved, isn’t it time for a little Ghostface and a little meta commentary? If you’re worried about the fact Wes Craven isn’t the one behind the camera this time, fear not, the franchise is in good hands with Ready or Not directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Opin.

The Righteous

This was my favorite horror movie that played at Fantasia. It’s a black and white tale about the end of the world, and without giving too much away, I’ll leave it at that. So far, no word on a wide distribution release date, but hopefully it comes out in 2022.

The Last Thing Mary Saw

This is another one of my favorites from Fantasia. It’s folk-horror done well with a chilling atmosphere. and a truly creepy performance by Rory Culkin. It comes to Shudder in January.

Here’s hoping that 2022 goes better than 2020 and 2021. At the very least, there’s a lot more horror to look forward to in the new year!

Best-of 2021: Shudder

With the year winding down, it’s time for another best-of list! This is a piece that I wrote for Signal Horizon, naming my favorite exclusive and original content on the horror streaming network, Shudder. My larger best-of horror list for 2021 is coming, and it’s likely at least 1-2 of these picks will end up on that broader list. You can read my Shudder list here.

Stay tuned for the other list coming soon!

Neo-Slashers and Something to Cure the Post-Halloween Blues

If you’re looking for something to take away the post-Halloween blues like I am, then let me recommend checking out the newest special issue of Horror Homeroom on the “neo-slasher.” It’s jam-packed with content on the new Halloween films, a reimagining of the Final Girl, and a host of other topics. I’m happy to say that my essay on post-9/11 horror and slasher remakes entitled “A Tale of Two Remakes: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006),” is part of the issue. You can read the full issue here.